In a Fallen world where suffering abounds: What is the Christian answer to suffering and uncertainty? What is it we have been given in the face of pain, sorrow, uncertainty, and agony in our lives and the world? The answer is the supernatural virtue of hope. The Christian life is one lived in hope, no matter what happens on a personal or global level. In his encyclical, Spe Salvi, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI reminds us of this gift:
“Spe salvi facti sumus”—in hope we are saved, says Saint Paul to the Romans, and likewise to us (Rom 8:24). According to the Christian faith, “redemption”—salvation—is not simply a given. Redemption is offered to us in the sense that we have been given hope, trustworthy hope, by virtue of which we can face our present: the present, even if it is arduous, can be lived and accepted if it leads towards a goal, if we can be sure of this goal, and if this goal is great enough to justify the effort of the journey.
Spe Salvi 1
Not only are we given hope, but “trustworthy hope” because hope comes from God. It is true that the road to holiness and communion with the Most Holy Trinity is arduous. There will be periods of intense suffering from external and internal factors largely outside of our control, but in the midst of that suffering hope sustains us and propels us forward. If we keep our eyes fixed in hope on Christ and our eschatological end, then the pain is worth the effort necessary to attain our goal, which is God. We must live in hope and not despair no matter what happens around us or to us.
Where does our hope rest?
Our hope does not come from the material world or the powers of this world. Our hope rests in Christ. While the Paschal Mystery has renewed creation, and brought about the salvation of mankind, men and women must still battle sin and suffering in the pursuit of holiness in a Fallen world. Pope Benedict XVI states: “Since man always remains free and since his freedom is always fragile, the kingdom of good will never be definitively established in this world. Anyone who promises the better world that is guaranteed to last forever is making a false promise; he is overlooking human freedom.” Definitive hope rests with God, not in the temporal order. We live hope in the temporal order, but hope does not come from this world.
One of the major struggles in Western society is based on a secular humanism that promises to lift mankind out of suffering through the use of reason. Due to the sinful and free nature of man, we cannot rely on the hope promised by human beings alone. This is also the danger of those who look to the state for all of the answers to human misery. No system based on reason and sinful human beings can completely free humanity from suffering, sin, and death. Only Jesus Christ can fulfill those promises.
How do we foster hope in our lives?
Difficulties will come to us all, which will challenge the hope we have been given. Periods of intense grief and suffering will often seem to extinguish hope, but in reality, as long as we do not abandon our faith, Christ holds us up in hope. We are living in hope as long as we keep on the path towards the Most Holy Trinity. In order to stay on the path, we must nourish hope through regular prayer. In prayer, we enter into relationship and dialogue with God. We are able to bring our pain and joy to Him, so that He can guide and console us. Pope Benedict XVI says of prayer:
A first essential setting for learning hope is prayer. When no one listens to me anymore, God still listens to me. When I can no longer talk to anyone or call upon anyone, I can always talk to God. When there is no longer anyone to help me deal with a need or expectation that goes beyond the human capacity for hope, he can help me.
Spe Salvi 32
Prayer opens us to God. It is in prayer where we learn to discern God’s will for our lives and come to know and love Him at a deeper level. Hope is strengthened the more we give ourselves over to God. It is how God helps us to grow in holiness, along with frequent reception of the Sacraments.
Our hope cannot primarily be temporal.
It is very easy for human beings to become consumed or overly attached to the temporal world. We are material and immaterial beings and our daily affairs are conducted in the realm of matter. Danger arises when we place the material above our supernatural or immaterial nature. We can rob ourselves of hope if we over-emphasize the here and now. We are called to transform the temporal order, but not in a manner that betrays an over-dependence on now over our eschatological end.
All serious and upright human conduct is hope in action. This is so first of all in the sense that we thereby strive to realize our lesser and greater hopes, to complete this or that task which is important for our onward journey, or we work towards a brighter and more humane world so as to open doors into the future. Yet our daily efforts in pursuing our own lives and in working for the world’s future either tire us or turn into fanaticism unless we are enlightened by the radiance of the great hope that cannot be destroyed even by small-scale failures of by a breakdown in matters of historic importance. If we cannot hope for more than is effectively attainable at any given time, or more than is promised by political or economic authorities, our lives will soon be without hope. I can always continue to hope, even if in my own life, or the historical period in which I am living, there seems to be nothing left to hope for.
Spe Salvi 35
It is important to remember that our hope does not rest in social, economic, or political solutions offered. They are a means to an end, but they are not the end. There is a temptation–when times seem to get darker–for people to speak or act in a manner that points to an abandonment of hope. No matter what happens in our own lives or the world around us, Jesus Christ is King. The battle is won. We always hope in Him and continue on the path to becoming a saint regardless of what happens in the world around us. Our mission to become a saint never changes. We were made to become saints. It isn’t easy, but that is why hope is a supernatural virtue. We rely on God to fill us with hope and we accept that hope in faith. May He fill us with hope as we continue on the path to holiness.